An exploration of the experience of client suicide on the psychotherapist in Ireland

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Dowd, Emma
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The literature suggests that professional and personal functioning can be undermined as a result of client suicide. Both anecdotal evidence and research would suggest that overcoming a client‟s suicide can be quite challenging for health-care professionals and good self-care practices are considered important in overcoming these challenges. Despite the number of therapists who experience client suicide, qualitative research is lacking in this area. To capture an in-depth insight into the psychotherapist in Ireland‟s experience of client suicide, this study uses qualitative research in the form of semi-structured interviews with four female psychotherapists. Thematic analysis was used to analyse data and resulted in four common themes. The main focus of this research topic was on whether client suicide impacts the psychotherapist in Ireland and if so, in what ways. It explored how these effects are mitigated. The researcher also explored self-care, self-care practices and considered the roles compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious trauma may play as a result of client suicide. Results reveal that 100% of respondents were impacted both personally and professionally by their clients‟ suicide with 100% of respondents experiencing a range of trauma symptoms which lasted from a few weeks to a year. Vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout were experienced as an amalgamation of events rather than a direct result of client suicide. Overall, what psychotherapists in Ireland found most supportive in mitigating the effects of client suicide were; verbalising their experience, feeling that others understood what they were going through and feeling that what they were experiencing was „normal‟. Good self-care was considered invaluable. Supervisors and colleagues who could empathise with respondents were seen as most helpful in mitigating effects. Personal therapy, when attended, was viewed considered beneficial, while friends and family were seen as less helpful. Author keywords: Impact, therapist, client suicide